Gen Hobbs, the Division Commander, entered the 3/120 CP on the day after the fight. He was speaking with Col Purdue about the bitterness of the battle. The Germans had outdone themselves in organizing clever, deceptive, powerful defenses on the ground. The Germans had fought viciously for each inch. But the men of the 120th Infantry Regiment had overcome the terrible obstacles. Not easily, no. But with a fortitude and persistence that did honor every man associated with the unit. Briskly Gen Hobbs complimented Lt Col Greer. Hill 551 perhaps was as hard a battle as was fought in this war, in the Pacific or the European Theater. Men agreed on that. Meanwhile, the 119-IR had seized Ligneuville, and the Wolfshusch to the southeast. On January 17, 1630, the Regimental Command Post moved into a once-luxurious resort hotel in Ligneuville. A half-hour later the 2/120 had relieved the 3/119 on the high ground, at the Wolfshusch. At this time the 30-CRT was attached to the 120. The 3/120 took over the former positions of the 2/120 and with the 1/120 remained in the vicinity of Thirimont. The I/120 sent a recon patrol to determine with what strength the enemy held Hill 522, another key to the area 2500 yards east of Recht, on the St Vith road.
Led by Lt Hobert MacCulley of Charlie 120, the patrol delved far into enemy territory and observed enemy strong points in strategic locations. Moments were tense when an enemy group was observed to have infiltrated the rear of the patrol, perhaps to cut it off. But stealthily the patrol withdrew through thickets covered with snow and returned successfully to supply vital information to the battalion.
On January 18, the 120-IR struck again. The objective was the high wood, Hill 522, but Regimental Headquarters passed down the code word for the objective, which was ‘Queen’. From the 2/120 front on the Wolfsbusch, the 1/120 attacked south over a route well-reconnoitered by Lt MacCulley’s patrol the day before. It moved through the thick pine forest to the high ground and encountered little opposition. It captured two enemy patrols without disclosing its formation or committing a large number of men. By 1330, men had dug in, and though they received intermittent tank fire which caused tree bursts, no casualties were suffered. The enemy is known to counter-attack with persistence and regularity. This occasion was particularly humiliating to the enemy, and he made his counter-attacks especially frequent and vicious. In the following days, he tried desperately with this strategy to eject our troops. Three and a half hours after the 1/120 had moved onto its objective it was struck by a force of five tanks and one hundred infantry. The tanks were canalized, however, by snow and woods, and two were speedily put out of action by Panzerfaust. The infantry withdrew. They returned, however, later in the evening. A block established by the 1/120 on the road running north into Kaiserbaracke destroyed two more tanks and an assault gun. Again the Germans withdrew. But this time they left behind forty prisoners and thirty-five killed.
Our victory, however, cost the life of a brave soldier, S/Sgt Frederick O. Sawyer of Charlie Co. While engaged in the battle with the counter-attacking enemy tanks, S/Sgt Sawyer assisted another man in knocking out an approaching tank. He later deliberately fired upon a second tank to divert the attention of its crew from his squad which the tank had pinned down with its machine-gun fire. He gave orders to his men to seek cover and, while firing upon the tank, was killed by its machine-gun fire. In intentionally exposing himself, S/Sgt Sawyer paid the ultimate price to enable his squad to withdraw, regroup, and attack again to force the tank’s withdrawal. So, the objective of ‘Queen’ was secured and held. To the men of the 1/120 who were there, there must always be some touch of cold and hunger in the world. They knew objective ‘Queen’ by name, and had not lived in the frozen woods long before they came to hate its atmosphere.
The main road was the only quick route over which to bring supplies, but until it was opened until the enemy had been driven from his stubborn roadblocks, food, and clothing had to be brought over a devious, forested route that was long and could take only small vehicles like M-29 Weasels. Without blankets men found the nights endless and sleepless; with only meager K rations, the days were tiresome and nerve-racking. Occasionally rocket fire would set the woods echoing. The men crept miserably into the frigid foxholes and stamped icy feet against the ground. The battalion Command Post was only a little larger than a foxhole itself, dug in on the reverse slopes of Hill 522. The Battalion commander remembers the night after the objective was seized when as he was trying to doze, a husky rifleman planted a heavy GI shoe in the CP hole and yelled lustily at the men inside, Where the hell is the CP?. The battalion commander couldn’t answer; he was too busy struggling with both frozen hands to keep the GI boot from crushing his face, where it had been placed. Every now and then the snow sifted down in flurries. That was Objective Queen.
The 3/120 meanwhile moved to Hill 522 to reinforce the defense of the 1/120. The key to success in this area during this season was the maintenance of communication, supply, and evacuation routes. Particularly with flanks and rear exposed, the S-4 assignment was doubly difficult. No vehicles could go without a convoy. Wet weather and shell fire constantly hampered telephone wires, and the wooded, hilly terrain made radio a troublesome method of keeping contact. To keep supply lines open, the 2/120, still holding the Wolfsbusch, sent elements to protect the vulnerable main road leading to the forward battalions. The 30-Recon kept contact meanwhile with the 23-IR on our left. The Germans, too, had realized the importance of roads in preserving a strong defense. Three of their blocks had to be bypassed in the initial stages of the attack on Hill 522. One was at the railroad crossing north of the hill, one at Kaiserbaracke, and another at a dirt crossroad 500 yards due north of Kaiserbaracke. The latter was in the zone of the 117-IR and had held up that regiment for two days. On January 19, King 120 was given the difficult mission of making a night attack through unreconnoitered woods in order to assist the 117-IR. Led by that indomitable fighter Capt ‘Indian Joe’ Reaser, King 120 was brilliantly successful.
At the railroad crossing, King 120 was able to break up the enemy block and destroy a Mark IV and an assault gun. At Kaiserbaracke our pressure forced four assault guns and a staff car to attempt to make a getaway to the south. Elements of Charlie 120 and of the Antitank Platoon, 1/120, deployed on both sides of the escape route, destroyed all five vehicles. This was Capt Reaser’s last operation. He entered the fight suffering from a wound received a few days earlier and again he was wounded, fortunately not seriously. He remained with his company until the mission was completed. But the wound ultimately caused ‘Indian Joe’ to be evacuated. Thus the Regiment lost one of its outstanding company commanders.
Our troops destroyed many pieces of enemy armor during this operation. Seven tanks or assault guns, two half-track personnel carriers, and one staff car lay wrecked between Kaiserbaracke and Hill 522. Several other uncounted German tanks were found destroyed throughout the timber. In the wooded terrain and foggy weather, long fields of fire did not exist; the tanks had to be attacked from close quarters. Rifle grenades and particularly bazookas proved invaluable and accounted for most of the destroyed enemy vehicles.
Patrols on January 18 had ascertained that enemy infantry was well-entrenched around Feckelsborn, a tiny settlement on the Recht road west of the St Vith highway. Relieved by the 1/119, the 2/120, moved into the attack at 1400, January 19, from the area of the 1/120 on Hill 522 along a ridge extending southwest into the hamlet. Brilliantly led by Lt Col James W. Cantey, who kept the troops organized in the face of an initial artillery barrage falling on them, the advancing battalion met only light resistance and consolidated the gain by 1700. Of the eighteen prisoners captured, some indicated that they had expected an attack from the west and had been taken by surprise on their right flank. On Hill 522, the night of January 19/20 was the coldest and stormiest yet, the riflemen decided. Nothing seemed to be able to function in the numbing cold. The radios went dead, telephone lines were out, and no vehicles could come near. The German artillery alone functioned better than ever, and like the snow and wind, continued all night, though not altogether so consistently.
The supply problem was acute. At 11OO on the morning of January 20, a savior appeared in the form of Maj Chris McCullough, 1/120 executive officer, who, with a hand-carrying party, had brought food and blankets to the 1/120 and the 3/120. In the 3/120 forward CP, he found Lt Col Greer, Capt Trauth, Artillery Officer, Lt Jack W. Gollust, Communications Officer, and T/Sgt Peters, bitterly cold and miserable after the night’s tortures. Supplies were never more welcome. Throughout the entire drive, of course, bringing forward food and clothing was a pressing and ever-looming problem. Company and battalion executives slaved – and had to change plans many times. Frequently the men had to do without. The suffering made commanders wince. The first sergeants were frequently company heroes. Belin, Shtundel, and Seamans in the 3/120 were called ‘towers of strength’ by the doughboys. Clelan L. Belin, of Item 120, had even on Houyire brought forward faithfully all he could in an M-29 Weasel. He knew, as Capt Shaw said, that ‘chow and rolls were a welcome sight because a hole in the snowy, cold ground was no picnic in any man’s language’.
Then on the morning of January 20, came saturation artillery and rocket fire on the 1/120 and the 3/120 positions. Ten men in the vicinity of the 3/120 CP were wounded, and one was killed. Capt Charles E. Pritchard, 3/120 Hqs Co CO, was wounded in both legs; his driver, Pfc Constantine, was killed.
Assigned to the 120-IR, the village of Nieder-Emmels, and the high ground immediately north of it became ‘Objective Tare’. A patrol from the 1/120 set out at 1830 on January 20 and drew fire halfway to the objective. Commanded by Lt Francis E. Smith, the patrol had observed well, and reported installations so accurately that the battalion was able to move where the enemy line was the weakest. At 1000, the 1/120 with Able and Baker Cos leading, maneuvered far to the west of the St Vith road, bypassed the German line strong points and swung in upon the enemy from his rear. The artillery observer with the Battalion brought fire upon a battery of German horse-drawn artillery before the Germans realized that their front lines had been bypassed. By then it was too late for them to resist effectively; they were thrown off balance. Thirteen prisoners were captured, and the enemy was evicted from the ground on the right of the St Vith road around the
Item and Love Cos pushed farthest to the east, but the entire battalion was so decimated and exhausted that the men had a slow and difficult fight. The battalion encountered assault guns and infantry but was able to push on to Objective Tare and consolidate a defense by 1645. Supply routes again had to be cleared. Charlie Co, which had remained on a roadblock on Hill 522, was sent to open the road to the Nieder-Emmels Heide. King Co assisted. George Co relieved Charlie on the roadblock. The 30-Recon relieved the 1/119 in the Wolfsbusch at 0900, and established contact with the 117-IR on the right flank (west).
Counter-Attack – Wald
The night of January 20/21, was long and cold, and the men were tired. At 0400 a German patrol was noted, and three of its members were shot before it could escape. At the first glimmering of dawn enemy artillery increased slightly. B rations were served for breakfast, nevertheless, and feeling secure, some of the troops were trying to keep warm in their blankets, when, at 0915 the enemy made a spectacular appearance. From the cast around Born came two assault guns with about 150 infantry; they hit our lines in the vicinity of where a fire break crossed the main road just north of Nieder Emmels. The enemy drove hard for the main road; whether to turn right to tear asunder our line, or to turn left to escape to his own, no one knows. The attack was preceded by artillery, and for a half-hour was raging at a furious pace; the lead assault gun hit two 57-MM AT guns at the road bend, smashing their breechblocks, and hitting a jeep close by; it fired on a machine gun nest of King Co and killed all four men therein. And it raced back and forth in the fire break while the enemy infantry around the tanks scattered and fired small arms into our positions. Tanks of the 743-TB on the main road kept the self-propelled gun from leaving the break. Conspicuously in the center of the fray was Capt George L. Reeves of Love Co, who at the first shots had left his CP dugout and picked up an M-1 rifle nearby. Someone discovered later that he killed six of the enemy personally. Once, when the lead self-propelled gun commander raised his hatch cover, Capt Reeves shot him and saw the gun retreat at once rapidly. Fighting not far from Capt Reeves were Lt O’Shea and Lt Doyle of Item Co. Throughout the vicious attack, the three officers bolstered the men, Capt Reeves with the spirit of a man who knows he cannot be hurt. He was to learn later that afternoon, at a much tamer time, that he was all too vulnerable; a surprise rocket barrage caught him as he dashed to warn some of his men to take cover from enemy fire; he was wounded seriously.
In a forward 3/120 CP meanwhile, on the east edge of the infamous Emmelser Wald, the Germans had taken command. When it had first struck the line, the self-propelled gun had fired into the front-line dugout, killing a radio operator and wounding a member of the Battalion Intelligence Section. After the gun had continued on in a vain attempt to gain the main road, the German infantrymen had moved in and had taken prisoner a radio operator and an officer, Lt James Bickley, Battalion S-2, who once previously had been taken prisoner by the enemy, only to escape after several weeks of captivity behind the enemy lines. Meanwhile, closer to the road, King and Love Cos were able to pin enemy infantry to the ground. One tank was able to direct frontal fire at the assault guns keeping them from breaking through. Lt Col Williamson was meanwhile skirting through the woods on the east side of the road to flank the guns; with him, he took T/Sgt Thomas Fogli, a veteran of long standing from Able 120, then in reserve, and eight riflemen of Fogli’s platoon. Three tanks moved with the squad and, while protected and directed by the infantrymen, they pulled into position on the German’s right flank; in a minute they were firing at the enemy and had destroyed one of the guns, while another turned and fled in the direction from which it had come. Small-arms and tank fires accounted for most of the German infantry.
Ever since the day of the first attack against Thirimont and Houyire, the wiremen and radiomen had been taking a beating. The SCR 610 and SCR 300 radios strapped to their backs weighed heavier, and with each new hill, the burden became more unendurable. At times almost waist-deep, the snow increased, even more, the difficulty of movement. Then, only a few hours into the attack, the batteries began freezing and became useless. With an ingenuity that had always been a recognized characteristic of ‘GI Joe’, radiomen contrived a ‘blanket’ for their instruments, a woolen covering made from socks and old clothes; slipped around the piece, it diminished the danger of freezing and solved to some extent the radio problem. Struggling along close by the riflemen, the radiomen could be heard shouting in tight, frozen voices, ‘Sugar Able this is Baker Mike’.